The Dog Within

by Lucinda Nelson Dhavan

I think my Inner Bitch is a lot like the female dog that decided our home is included in her territory. She's just one of those ordinary street dogs with which India is so plentifully endowed. They camp out on the streets, and every now and again the municipal dogcatchers round them up and take them away—though the city employees usually are too softhearted (or lazy) and only give them a ride around the block to release them in another neighborhood. From there the cannier canines return to their usual beat, or find a better one.

"Our" dog walked in one day when rain was making life miserable. Curled up in the corner of the verandah, she cast a wary eye over everyone who walked past her. She settled in when no one told her to go away. Our "official" dog, a pointer, seemed happy to have company. He shared his food until we finally set out another plate. It was clear she wasn’t going anywhere. Since she was going to hang around for a while, we also wanted to make sure she had updated shots. A problem with that plan arose because the fancy veterinary clinics don’t like street dogs mixing with their Dobermans and Pomeranians and other "pure" animals. Luckily, we found a retired assistant from the Government Veterinary Hospital who kept office hours in a tea stall down the road, and could always be contacted on his cell phone for house calls. On the dog’s certificate, under the column for "breed," he wrote "Indian," which is about all you can say about that.

Now this dog is, in literal terms, a "bitch," and her behavior is very much like most bitches of my acquaintance. This being so, I have never understood how "bitch" came to have overtones of "an aggressive or domineering female." She moved right in, that is true, but if we had been nasty or abusive, she would have moved right out and found another quiet corner elsewhere. She didn’t even try to domineer; it’s not in her nature. What she is, at heart, is practical, low-profile, and sensitive to her environment.

The only time I saw her act aggressively was when she had pups. She didn't like outsiders messing with them. But any female will protect her young; that’s an instinctive rage, not a way of being.

Woman With Lilac Hat
Woman With Lilac Hat
by Karla Darocas
artist's statement

Manipulative? No, she isn't that either. The male dogs that give you the old liquid-brown-eyes begging treatment and roll over with their stomachs in the air to wheedle friendship and food out of you are manipulative. She sits at a distance, dignified, accepting offerings.

Frankly, I don't even see how the term "bitch" came to be used for a promiscuous woman, if you look at her. She was fond of our pointer, certainly, but when she was bored with his attentions she laid down under the car, where he couldn't reach her, and ignored his whimpering. When he got too old to care, she allowed the male street dogs to come through the gate, in season, and watched patiently while they battled over her. If she didn’t like the winner, there was always the old trick with the car. She's discriminating, I'd say, and has pups so attractive that they practically give themselves away. She’s such a fantastic mother that they're always fat, clean, and frisky, and she’s completely ready to let them go, once they're old enough.

I swear my "Inner Bitch" is exactly like this dog—whether a job, a friendship, or any other kind of relationship, I walk in where I think I might want to be, watch, move carefully, and move on if it doesn’t fit.

That's as far as my Inner Bitch goes. As for kicking butt, my Inner Bitch doesn't like her butt kicked, so she doesn't do that to others. Ditto for manipulation. My Inner Bitch has very strong views on the subject of manipulation; she has been living with a mother-in-law.

Maybe my Inner Bitch is boring, compared to those who snap and bite. I guess, also, that she has been lucky, like the dog on my verandah, in choosing a place to stay and having a job. Writers don't have to kick butt often—or maybe they do, and that's why I have yet to win fame and fortune. But so far my work has been satisfying, or I've left it, without regret. No doubt it would be different for someone in sales, market research, software development, law, or any other situation where they had to fight to keep in place, and struggle to get ahead. The only highly competitive job I’ve had was as a journalist. At that, I worked as long as I felt I was free to do what I wanted, and when I couldn't, I quit. I had little ego involvement; I didn't want to be Christianne Amanpour, or Barkha Dutt, for that matter. I wanted to learn about everything I could and then write great fiction. Luckily for me, I didn't absolutely have to have the money. The family could manage on what my husband earned. Needing money definitely would have been a bitch.

Oops, there I go with the word play again.

The point is, I suppose circumstances could bring out the bitch in any woman—any kind of bitch, any definition of the word. And I know that in the long fight for equality between the sexes, women have felt the need to harness an inner fighting spirit and suffered if they were too nice. They needed to sink their teeth into the flanks of the Male Chauvinist Pigs standing in their way. They released the inner bitch-goddess model of behavior. Good for them!

For me, this dog that moved in with us, though we definitely don't own her, is all I've ever needed my Inner Bitch to be. She's alert, intelligent, nurturing—ready to make do and to move on. That's as wild and bitchy as I ever needed to be, so far. Let's see what the future brings.

BIO: Lucinda Nelson Dhavan first went to India on a Fulbright Foundation grant, immediately after graduating from College. She's still there. After several years on the staff of a regional newspaper, she feels she may have learned enough to write fiction. She is polishing a collection of short stories and working on a novel. Contact Lucinda at: ldhavan@yahoo.co.in

ABOUT the PAINTING: "Woman with Lilac Hat"
I have a fun facination about large hats and the women who wear them. This artwork was inspired by a 1920's postcard I saw once. I never bought the postcard. One day I just attempted to paint the image from my memory. This painting was featured in an exhibition in celebration of International Women's Day 2005 - at the Marriott Hotel in Javea, Alicante - Spain.

ARTIST'S STATEMENT:
Karla Darocas is a Canadian-born and educated artist with a Fine Arts degree from the University of Waterloo (1990) She is married to a native Spaniard and now lives and works in Spain.

Karla Darocas is also the founder and network director of the Women in Business Club of Spain. This open system club mixes professional business networking and relationship building, with anti-domestic violence media campaigning and fundraising events in support of women and children's shelters.

It is a club that reaches out into the business community for support and has never accepted "no" for an answer. It is a club that has challenged the outdated gender stereotyping surrounding women and it has pressed forward to prove, time and time again, that women are successful business innovators and leaders with big humanitarian hearts!

The WIBC yearly hosts International Women's Day, which is celebrated by women all over the world as an _expression of their solidarity. It is a day to shine and be proud to be a woman and to extend a handful of humanity to help other women.

More Columns
Dees | Dhavan | Porter | Sexton | Weekley